2015 Summer Camp Report Card

We made it. We survived another summer of camp. Yes, not just them. Us parents too.

It’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with summer camp. In short, I love that my kids have 7-8 straight weeks of outdoors fun, activities and friendship during which their bodies get strong and brown, and their characters and friendships thrive. But oh my lawd, the preparation, the anxious mornings, the exhausted evenings. The hangry. The dirt.

This year, I thought I’d mark the highlights of 2015 summer camp with a report card – so here goes:

  • Inches grown: At least half a foot each.
  • Poundage of food consumed: Off the charts.
  • Number of times we missed the bus: Six or seven
  • Number of times we almost missed the bus: Every>Single>Day
  • Numbers of times someone forgot their lunch: Just the once. Phew.
  • Items of clothes irreparably stained: Every top my son owns. Most of his socks too. At least the ones that have fund their way to the laundry and aren’t stuffed down the back of the couch or strewn in a corner somewhere.
  • Number of items lost: Surprisingly fewer than in recent years. Maybe a water bottle or two.
  • Number of items found: Amazingly, a towel that was lost two years ago found it’s way back home. Welcome back, towel.
  • Amount of sand brought home each night: The entire contents of the gaga pit. On my kitchen floor.
  • Number of fist fights and disciplinary action: Just the one. But a first for us.

But seriously, hats off once again to the YMCA for another amazing summer of camp and for making every day at summer camp a day my kids look forward to; once I drag them out of bed, that is.

 

Summer Camp Preparation: A Business Woman’s Guide

Twenty-one days. That’s how much time is left until my family’s weekday morning schedule has to adjust backwards by an hour.

Excuse me while I hyperventilate.

Yup, summer camp is almost here. And we all know how I feel about summer camp: it’s a love/hate thing. But the few weeks leading up to the transition from school to camp make my stomach churn with anxiety. How the heck are we going to get out of the door at 8am every morning, when doing it at 9am every day during the school year is so freaking challenging? The drama, the yelling, the last minute “oh I need a penguin for today’s xyz project?” or “I can’t find my shoes” or “mama I have no underpants” calamities.

And yet, every year, we seem to manage. I’m driven largely by a deep-rooted fear of missing the camp bus which would mean driving the kids 30 mins to a place that is entirely the opposite direction from my office. Yes, fear. It’s a big motivator.

So, to mitigate against drama, chaos, panic and so on, preparation is key and for this, I draw upon a few fundamentals from the world of business:

Procurement: Be sure to stock up on sufficient kids clothes (so you don’t have to do laundry more than once a week) and other essentials which will get lost, despite all and any attempts to label them or nail them to your kids backpack or body. These include: socks, shoes, T-shirts, underpants, swimsuits, towel, water bottles, hats, sun lotion, bug spray, goggles, lunch boxes (and innards), and so on. Not to mention lunch and snack stuff.

Inventory: No matter how much you have procured ahead of time, odds are it will not be enough and at some point during the summer weeks, you’ll run out of something mission-critical. Or they’ll lose their back pack. Or wreck their shoes. Be prepared to maintain and strategically top-up inventory.

Logistics management: I cannot stress how important it is to keep things moving to avoid a great big pile-up of drama-inducing chaos. Yes, this means doing laundry semi-regularly and actually moving things from the washer to the drier and back into closets. It means making sure that shoes get taken off at the end of the day and actually put somewhere where they will be easily found the next morning. No matter how much you have drilled your kids in doing their own laundry or shoe-putting-where-they-need-to-go, during the summer time, you will probably need to take back these duties or at the very least micro-manage them. It also means fanatically accounting for the whereabouts of everything. Which usually goes a little something like this:

Me: “Didn’t you take a blue water bottle today?”
Kid: “Yes I did.”
Me: “So why did you bring home a green water [or no] bottle. “
Kid: “I lost/traded/forgot mine.”

Business processes: New household processes must be executed. For me, this involves rinsing out the kids’ swimsuits each night because if they get actually washed in the laundry too often, they start sagging at the bottom. (Note: this is because I buy cheap swim suits. See point 1.) And nobody likes saggy swim suit bottoms. It also means ensuring that bedtimes are observed because late nights mean late mornings which means panic, drama, yelling and me being late to work. Working backwards, if prompt bedtimes are to be observed, this means that dinner needs to be ready swiftly upon getting home at the end of each day. Which means we need to know what we are making for dinner each evening. Which requires aforethought and, you know, grocery shopping. (See procurement/inventory.)

Workforce management, scheduling and integration: In an ideal world, both parents are fully invested in the New World Order that summer camp season mandates. Similarly, adaptations usually need to be made to who’s doing drop offs and pick ups. It may take a while for all parties to adapt to the new routine so be sure to integrate it into the family schedule. If you have one. (Note to self: work on family schedule.)

Closed-loop feedback: Communication is absolutely essential. With all parties. Spouses/partners. Kids. Bus drivers. Camp counselors. Other parents. It also means reading every crumpled, dusty and damp piece of paper (why are they always damp?) that get stuffed into backpacks informing you about something important happening, like “It’s Green Day tomorrow!” or “Dress Like a Parrot Day.” (Confession: I usually ignore these because the procurement/inventory/supply chain is simply not flexible enough to allow for unexpected wardrobe changes.)

Twenty-one days. That’s how many days are left.

Pass the brown paper bag.

12 Things I Won’t Miss About Summer Camp

I’m not ashamed to say that I can’t wait for summer camp to be done. We have One.More.Day. Tomorrow, with a boatload of glee and relief, we’ll be putting the kids on the bus for their last day of YMCA summer camp this year. They have had an awesome awesome summer but it’s definitely time for everyone to resume the structure of the school year. Of course, while there are many reasons to love summer camp, there are also quite a few things I will not miss …. until next summer rolls around.

  1. The compressed, fractious mornings: no matter how early we all get up and how organized we are, the last few minutes of getting ready to get out the door is always high drama and stress
  2. Mud in  lunch boxes and backpacks
  3. Stains: there are regular stains and there are summer camp stains which require either boiling or disposal
  4. Having to wake up my daughter early: an ugly preview of what her teens will surely be like
  5. Damp, stinky towels that have been dragged through dirt and then stuffed into backpacks
  6. Lost items galore
  7. “Hey mama, I have to wear red all week” (she has no red clothes)
  8. The constant warring over whether Pokemon cards, devices and “guys” (Hero Factory/Chima characters) can go with them to camp (answer: no)
  9. The discovery of said contraband being snuck into backpacks
  10. Gimp
  11. Dirt bombs in their hair that take more than 2-3 showers/shampoos to remove
  12. Torture by “this is a repeat-after-me” camp songs

I know, I know. In a few week’s time, I’ll be all involved in homework, PTO guilt and all that school stuff and will long for the “carefree” days of summer camp. But right now, I’m so very glad that it’s almost over.

 

 

 

 

The Agony and Ecstasy of Summer Camp

School’s out, summer’s here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?

I hate summer camp

I hate that we have to be out of the house a whole hour earlier than during the school year, in time to catch the bus to camp. Our already-challenging mornings become even more compressed and panicky because, no matter how well prepared we are, kids just want to play – not pack their lunches, find their towel, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, etc etc. It’s the fear of missing the bus and having to consequently drive 40 minutes in the opposite direction from my workplace that fuels these mornings.

I hate that, no matter how well I’ve organized the camp clothing procurement process with the goal of having a sufficient supply chain of shorts, T-shirts, socks, swimsuits and towels, I still end up having to do laundry every single night. Because camp clothes aren’t just a little dirty – they are sweaty, sandy, muddy, dank, stained with arts and crafts and bug spray. They require boiling. I hate that stuff always gets lost, no matter how well labelled. Towels, water bottles, sun screen, swimsuits, lunch boxes, goggles, underwear.

I hate camp songs. Sure, they are cute at first. But when your kids sing them over and over, morning and evening and all weekend – especially those “repeat after me” songs – it’s enough to drive me loony.

I dislike “dress up” or theme days. Nine times out of ten we just don’t have the right costume, color or accessory just hanging around the house. Or, most likely, we forget. Then as we arrive at the bus stop and see other kids in whichever theme of the week attire it is, my kids are inevitably disappointed. (Side note: if they cared enough about it, they’d make an effort to remember. Right?)

I dislike family night. Not because I don’t want to experience my kids’ camp, meet their counsellors and friends, hang out and have fun – but because of the damn mosquitoes that see me and think “mmm, dinner.”

I hate the cost of 8-9 weeks of summer camp because, as a working parent, what else are you going to do? I also hate that I have to start reserving my kids’ spot at summer camp in January, for fear that it’ll book up really quickly and then we’ll be royally screwed.

I hate that many of the fun, smaller or specialist camps are not only crazy expensive but they also finish at 3 or 4pm? What’s a working parent to do?

But …. I love summer camp.

I love that my kids spend their days outside at camp running, playing, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, learning outdoor skills and much much more. It’s how kids were meant to spend their summers: carefree, making new friends, trying new challenges. Happy as pigs in …. well, you know. I love how my kids’ camp – the YMCA – provides sufficient structure for a camp of 800 kids but at the same time encourages discovery, expression and free-play.

I love how my kids’ bodies become firm and lithe during summer camp, their little arms and chests becoming toned and muscular thanks to twice daily swimming. I love how, every summer, their swimming skills get stronger. I love their stories of new friends and adventures. I love the relationships they build with their counsellors. I love their farmers’ tans, the healthy glow that bursts from their happy faces. I love how they grow every summer, not just in height but in strength (inner and outer.)

I love that they come home tired, filthy, and hungry. They eat their body weight in food for dinner and then sleep soundly for ten hours. I love that they are spending less time in front of screens. I feel like our money has been well-spent and my kids are making memories every year, building layer upon layer of character and confidence.

So yes, mention summer camp and I’ll both smile and grimace.  And yes, soon enough, the time will come that they go to sleep away camps for several weeks at a time. Then, I’m sure, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Summer Swan Song & Back to School Angst

Well, that went fast! Here we are, just three days of summer camp left and back to school in a week’s time. It’s a time to pause and marvel at summer’s imprint on my kids – before I, true to form, start stressing about the imminent change to our schedules, logistics and my inevitable working Mom guilt.

Summer has a habit of showering my kids with one heck of a growth spurt: both mentally and physically. Mentally, they become more self-assured, strutting off to camp every day, confident in their character, willing to learn, practice and hone new skills, navigate complex social situations, make new friends – both peers and counselors.

Summer mostly leaves her mark on their bodies. Long days of constant motion and outdoor action convert their little bodies into long, lean, muscular, bronzed creatures. They grew at least two feet taller each summer – I’m not kidding. The sun bleaches the soft down on their foreheads and rains golden streaks into their hair. Their bums are shocking white in contrast with the rest of the lanky, ripped bodies! Summer renders them ever more beautiful.

Best of all, they return home from camp each night filthy, hungry and tired. They eat their body weight in dinner, chug several pints of milk, shower off the day’s dust, grime, sun screen and bug spray, and fall, clean and exhausted, into their beds and into deep, sweet dreams.

This evening, we talked about what they’d miss most about camp. Their friends and swimming every day were their answers. Then we talked about what they were looking forward about going back to school. Their friends and learning new things, they responded.

It amazes me how seamlessly and confidently they slide from one season to the next, without angst, without regret, with anticipation.

And so we go back to school. However, for me as a working Mom, the transition isn’t quite as carefree as the kids.

Back to school, for me, brings a change of schedule with school starting an hour later, meaning I get to the office later, compressing my already busy work day. It brings regret that I don’t have the time in my schedule to walk my kids to school. It foists guilt that I can’t be as present in the classroom as maybe I could or should be. lt slams me with frustration that I’m not able to pick them up before 6pm every day, meaning our evenings together are all-too-short.

Surely, they deserve more of me?

This is a state-of-mind and heart that I face at this time of year every year. I struggle with it. And then accept it, for my choice to work is my choice. And, luckily for me, my kids weather this time of year  better than I do – so I guess I must be doing something right.

This Working Mom Has Had It All – For Eight Years

I am one lucky gal.

For the last eight years, I have been able to work either a four or three-day week while raising my kids. Next week my youngest starts kindergarten and, as per the plan my husband and I decided way back when we started our family, now is the time for me to return to full-time work.

Getting pregnant was not your usual “wham bam thank you Ma’am” affair for my us. It was stressful and scientific, that’s all I have to say. So when that line appeared on the pregnancy test, it was monumental. And I knew that, to protect and sustain this growing ball of cells in my womb, I had to make a serious change to my working life: I had to mitigate my appetite for my career and mute the pace at which I was working. I also knew that being a stay at home Mom wasn’t on the cards for me: both financially and intellectually, I needed to work.

“Having it all” for the last eight years was only possible through the trust and openness of some wonderful people, to whom I am eternally grateful.

Jim Barbagallo was my boss at the time I first became pregnant, eight years ago. Not only did he understand my desire to transition to a four-day week but he was also open to my longer-than-planned maternity leave. And then, when I was ready to return to work, he fought hard to get me my position and schedule back. When I became pregnant with my second child, my desire to cut back my time further coincided with the incredible serendipity of meeting William Agush. William, to me, was and is unique in realizing the winning combination of trusting experienced employees with workplace flexibility. Thanks to William, I enjoyed the working Mom’s hat trick: a three-day work week that was challenging and enjoyable, one whole day to myself every week, and time to be with my young kids. Fast forward to 2010, when I had the good fortunate to be introduced to Meg O’Leary and Beth Monaghan, principals at InkHouse. I was making my next career move but adamant about maintaining my four-day schedule. Beth and Meg, both working mothers themselves, had built this incredible, successful and vibrant PR agency with remarkable skill and talent but also with the humanity to understand that life happens, especially when you are a parent. We took a chance on each other that has paid off in spades.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that balancing being a mother and working a part-time schedule in a demanding, fast-paced industry was always sunshine and flowers. There were definitely compromises made, the never-ending juggling of competing schedules and priorities, stress and surprises. Financially, the cost of preschools, after-school care, and camps was shocking, if not crippling. Yes, there were times that I felt like I was outsourcing my kids in order to get my job done. And I’m sure that my kids thought (and still do think) that I spend as much time with my iPhone as I do with them. And none of this will change when I’m working full-time, I know. But my kids know they are loved. They know that, when they really need me, I am there. Thanks to daycare and preschool, they are sociable, optimistic and creative creatures. They also understand that work = money = toys. Which for them is really all that matters!

There were two other crucial components that made these last eight years possible.

The first is my husband. We went into parenthood – naive like most – but with an understanding that it was a joint mission and that both our careers and workaholic tendencies would have to modify. Fortunately, he works from home and sets his own schedule. For the first two years of each of our kid’s lives, he was able to be a stay at home Dad – on Mondays – giving him the unique appreciation of all that goes into caring for and entertaining a baby/toddler in the course of a day. He admits to it being both terrifying and incredibly special! The combination of my husband’s flexible work schedule, his uncontested commitment to his career and his success, his unfaltering support of my career choices – and quite frankly the wonderful man that he is – has made this journey feasible, practical and enjoyable.

The second element is my work ethic combined with my passion for my industry. To put it succinctly, I work hard and I am experienced at what I do. Getting to this point required determination, self-awareness, conviction, give and take, and plenty of hard graft. To working Moms or Moms-to-be who are weighing their priorities and maybe considering a shorter work-week, I offer this advice (while understanding that everyone’s situations and choices are distinct:)

  • Work your butt off in your 20s and 30s so that no-one can ever question your productivity, skills, desire and results when the time comes that you wish to change your work schedule.
  • Pay it forward: go the extra mile for team mates, put in the extra hours, be proactive, go for the win. I call it credit in the bank that you can tap into when you need to take that extra hour to participate in your kid’s classroom activity or take him to a dentist appointment.
  • Never make anyone feel short-changed by your work schedule.
  • Be accessible, even when you are not technically working. But at the same time, establish boundaries so that, when you are with your family, you can focus on them.
  • Be prepared for compromise. Something has to give.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • When you are working, work!

With both my kids now in elementary school, it is time for me to work a full week once again. I realize this will bring a new set of challenges and that I’m going to have to figure out how to carve out some me-time in this new world order. But I’m excited. With this extra day, I feel like I will be able to contribute more, achieve more, focus more on the parts of my work that I really love.

Hello Fridays, are you ready for me?

10 Tips For Surviving Your Staycation & Having Fun

(This post originally ran on Framingham Patch.)

Ooof. Last week was a long week! The kids and I were staycationing and we had a full schedule that included swimming, bowling, butterfly visiting, mini-golfing, Jedi training, ice cream scarfing, hanging out and much more.

Friends and followers have remarked that I must have been competing for an Olympic gold medal in parenting and staycations. While I admit that earning the title of “Most Funnest Mom” was secretly my goal, the reality is that I wanted to fill my kids’ week with awesome summertime memories.

This staycation was primarily a cost containment exercise (i.e. no camp for two weeks) but it has also been a bonding experience as well as reconfirming that I am in no way cut out to be a SAHM!

If you too are staycationing, here’s some advice from me to you on how to make it enjoyable for the kids – and sane for you:

  1. Plan ahead: I do this by maintaining a list of all the interesting places and activities in and around our neighborhood. I’ve been doing this ever since my kids were toddlers so that I wouldn’t have to spend time thinking about what to do or where to go. As I embarked upon this staycation week, I was armed with a master list of options for destinations and activities.
  2. Use local resources to find timely events: I subscribe to these two site’s email newsletters and follow them on Facebook and Twitter – Boston CentralMommyPoppins Boston. And I also check my local Patch’s 5 Things You Need to Know each day. This way, I can learn about fun activities taking place on any given day. For example, we discovered a really fun Jedi training session that was running last Tuesday at a nearby public library. It was hoot!
  3. Don’t go it alone: Pair up with another family, if you can. By jamming into one car, you’ll save on gas and the kids can entertain each other, rather than pester each other and annoy you with endless “are we there yet?’ questions. Plus you’ll have a grown-up to converse with.
  4. Set a budget: It makes sense to figure out what your total budget for the week’s outings and activities should be ahead of time. Or set a daily limit. Or simply check out admission costs before you leave the house so you don’t get any nasty surprises. A couple of the places on my list were prohibitively expensive or charged entrance for adults. If you’re in and around Boston, check out the great free options made possible by Highland Street’s Free Fun Fridays in the summer.
  5. Check the weather before you head out: Nothing worse that getting rained on when you don’t expect it! Make sure there are some indoor activities on your list, just in case. We had to change plans twice last week due to storms!
  6. Say yes: As a Mom, I say no to my kids A LOT. This week, I’ve been trying my hardest to delight them by saying yes as much as possible, within reason. (Enjoy it while it lasts, kids.)
  7. Ice cream: On a daily basis. It’s summer, it’s vacation so why not? Yes, we built ice cream into every day! Also works as a great motivation for good behavior.
  8. Mix up the routine: I am a big believer in routine but staycation is the perfect time to throw routine out the window. Past bedtime? No worries. breakfast for dinner? Yes please. Watch a movie while eating dinner? Sure. Wear PJs until lunchtime? Yup!
  9. Be silly: This applies to adults and kids. How was I silly this week? Why, I had a light saber battle with a Jedi master, of course.
  10. Reward yourself: It’s hard work and patience-testing planning for, entertaining, driving and catering to your kids non-stop during a staycation. So go ahead, pour yourself a large glass of wine at the end of the day. Plan some much-deserved alone time once staycation is over. Meet a friend for lunch. Grab a mani/pedi

How did I reward myself? I went back to work and it was awesome!

The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

Turning Crappiness into Happiness

Some days it’s tough to keep the glass half full.

Take this morning, for example. I wake up with a stinking headache and stuffy nose. Then, in the space of roughly 90 minutes, during which there are four people to corral, dress, feed, wipe, organize, please, pack lunch for, find shoes/mittens/hats, brush teeth, repeat commands over and over …etc, etc, my husband and I somehow try to squeeze in meaningful discussions about important stuff like money, kids summer camp, kindergarten registration and our plans for a spring all-inclusive family vacation somewhere in the sun.

Big mistake. Frustration. Disappointment. Tears.

Not the best way to start the day.

In the car en route to work, I start the process of giving myself a good talking to. Accept the complexity and the challenges. Deal with disappointment. Find alternatives that could work, even if they are not ideals (set aside dreams of lazing under the Caribbean sun, pool-side, sipping cocktails while kids are being entertained….) Let it go. Resolve to find better times to have these important discussions. Deep breath. Put on my smile and get on with the day, grateful for my loving family, employment, income and good health.

There now, that’s better.

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